DC Mayor Reverses Course On Body Cam Footage, Opens Up Recordings To Citizens And Researchers

from the putting-the-'public'-back-in-public-records dept

Back in April of this year, Washington DC mayor Muriel Bowser sided with the city’s law enforcement against transparency and accountability. The mayor promised to outfit officers with body cams in the wake of several, high-profile police-involved shootings. But two weeks after this promise in her State of the District speech, Bowser tucked a provision into a budget bill that would exempt the footage from public records requests.

Supposedly, this was done in the interests of “privacy,” but the blanket exception just meant local law enforcement would never feel compelled to hand over less-than-flattering footage. Bad news, to be sure, but only a few months later and Mayor Bowser has completely reversed course.

Police in the nation’s capital would release more footage from body cameras than in any other major U.S. city under a plan from Mayor Muriel E. Bowser that reverses her previous opposition to making such videos public.

Bowser’s proposal, which has the potential to shed light on thousands of recorded interactions between police and the public, would allow private citizens to obtain copies of video recorded on street corners, during traffic stops and elsewhere outdoors.

There will still be some exemptions. Anything recorded in a private residence would be limited to court proceedings and footage of traffic stops resulting in no arrests or citations will be heavily redacted to prevent the inadvertent release of personal information.

The reason for Bowser’s change of heart? Police officers just kept right on killing people.

In a statement to The Post, Bowser cited continued police shootings over the past year as a reason for the change, saying the tide has tilted in favor of greater disclosure even as governments must strike a balance between privacy and transparency.

The balance has been tipped back in favor of the public, thanks to the actions of law enforcement. In addition to making most camera footage responsive to public records requests, DC citizens will also be allowed to view footage of incidents they’re involved in by heading to their local police station within 90 days of the event. Access to all footage will be granted to researchers studying the effects of body-worn cameras.

DC cops who thought their videotaped misconduct would be stashed away from the prying eyes of the public aren’t going to be thrilled with this reversal. And they have no one to blame but their colleagues.

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Comments on “DC Mayor Reverses Course On Body Cam Footage, Opens Up Recordings To Citizens And Researchers”

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tqk (profile) says:

Re: Stop shooting people.

“Stop shooting people.”

Oh, come on. They’re only shooting minorities. You know, blacks, chicanos, the homeless, and maybe Native Americans. It’s a bit disingenuous to stretch that out by saying they’re shooting “people”, as if they’re shooting just anyone. Get a grip. Bleeding heart liberals. Gah!

[Do need to mention this is sarcasm?]

Dan says:

Re: Re: Stop shooting people.

Native Americans are actually killed and imprisoned at far greater rates than blacks of Hispanics. It’s really kind of a crime against humanity how America has brutalized that population even after systematic genocidal eradication campaigns. The problem is that it all happens out of sight and put of mind in the desolate ghettos, aka, reservations, that native people have been forced into and have had ethnic cleansing campaigns waged against them. Focusing on Black Lives Matter is almost selfishly and even really racist in and of itself in the face of the brutality and suffering the Native American communities are subjected to.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Nah, why attack the public when you can use them as a shield?

I’m betting on the standard sleazy tactic of claiming that their objections to the cameras, and the recordings from them being public, are based entirely upon concern for the public’s privacy.

The police of course would be overjoyed by the cameras, but they’re just so very concerned for the public’s privacy you see. /s

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Good cops would welcome the cameras

A few months ago a Wichita cop answered a break in call. He came up just as the man was leaving. When ordered to stop the man pulled a gun out and ran. The cop did not shoot and kill him until the guy clearly stopped, turned around and leveled the gun at him. This time there were no cries of police brutality because the entire incident was recorded on the store’s security cameras. Sometimes police shootings are completely justified. In situations like this the footage means such matters can be quickly resolved. I’m sure some bleeding hearts would whine “why didn’t he shoot him in the leg?” That is not how they are trained. They are taught to stop an imminent threat by shooting center mass. Too many people watch unrealistic cop shows where someone points a gun at them and instead of shooting they plead and try to reason them to put it down. Truth is; if you are stupid enough to point a gun at a cop, expect to be shot.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Good cops would welcome the cameras

“Why didn’t they just shoot the gun out of his hand?”

I’m afraid only Roy Rogers had that skill.

Some people will criticize the police no matter what they do. There was a PCP junkie here that murdered his girlfriend, robbed a WalMart pharmacy firing his gun in the crowded store and barricaded himself in his apartment. He shot at the police numerous times. They had reason to believe he had large quantities of ammunition and bomb making materials. The standoff went on for 36 hours and our police chief was criticized for finally saying “Let’s take him out”. Even after hitting the apartment with a fire hose he shot at the SWAT team as they moved in. The way some people complained you would think they shot Mother Teressa!

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Good cops would welcome the cameras

Wrong! When you are directly endangering the lives of both police and civilians you are not equal under the law. He fired several shots inside the store and dozens at police. One reason they waited as long as they did was they were hoping he would finally sleep and they could take him alive. He was so high that he was probably up the entire time.

OldGeezer (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Good cops would welcome the cameras

Except the law says that if someone is shooting at you, that you have a right to shoot back. Would you say the same if one of his shots killed a cop or a civilian? He already strangled his girlfriend the day before. He also tried to deliberately run down a highway patrolman in his truck. If he had surrendered instead of shooting at the SWAT team then he would have been entitled to his Miranda rights and a trial.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Good cops would welcome the cameras

One reason they waited as long as they did was they were hoping he would finally sleep and they could take him alive.

Then they should’ve just filled the place with tear gas and pepper spray. You can’t aim steadily when you’re coughing your lungs out and can’t see for tears filling your eyes.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Maybe this is the real reason for the turnaround

[…] sensitive records are already protected in District FOIA law by an exemption for documents where disclosure would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” That same exemption would apply to the body camera footage, so Bowser’s excuse for the blanket ban doesn’t hold up.
(Original quote snitched from the linked Washington City Paper article.

Magnum Scorsese says:

Short Term Good WIll be Subverted

For the short term the more widely available body-cam footage the better because it will help bring accountability to the police by reducing their ability to he-said she-said out of disputes.

But, give them a few years to work it out and the powers that be will start applying Big Data techniques to the all of the footage all of their officers collect in order to turn the tables and assert their dominance once again.

I hope that before it gets to that point we’ll have implemented serious data protection that prevents anybody from getting access to footage without a full blown warrant. Specifically no automated processing of the footage by anyone, it gets encrypted and time-stamped at the camera, goes into the cloud for permanent storage and the decryption keys stay with the court – only to be handed out after judicial review, with an expedited and inexpensive path for normal citizens to request footage that applies to themselves.

Anonymous Coward says:

because of the undying response from Police and others, the one further thing that should have been mentioned, i feel, is the right for the police and security forces to be recorded, both on film and on tape, as long as they were not being obstructed in their duty. it has been mentioned a lot, but it is still not adhered to. having an ‘official’ mention might just stop people’s cameras from being seized and/or wiped and/or broken, just to remove evidence of bad police behavior

Another Anonymous says:

No privacy problem if citizens do their own recording

There should be an easy way to mount a camera in the car door inside the glass pointing at any stranger approaching the car. Powered via wires, not batteries which would be dead when really needed.

The privacy problems come only when the police have the only record, which has to be made widely available to check repeated police dishonesty.

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